Momma Bear Adventures Wk 3 & 4 (North Island)
Mar 1st - Mum and I arrived in Wellington at 12:30pm, after the 3-hour (nauseous) ferry ride from Picton. From there, we started the 6-hour drive to Taupo, which was an extra hour due to construction. That night we camped at a place called Reid’s farm, a 5-minute drive from town. Reid’s farm is a freedom camp area up the road from Huka Falls, and right next to Waikato River. It is always packed full of campers. Last time I stayed at this freedom camp spot, the washrooms and long drops (outhouse) were very well kept and clean, but this time, they hadn’t been cleaned in weeks. There were flies everywhere, nasty smells and just filth - yuck. There were also ducks wandering through camp begging for food.
Mar 2nd - Our day started with a lovely visit to the Spa Thermal Park in Taupo, where we enjoyed the warm upper layer of water from the hot springs, mixed with the cool bottom layer of the river. Next was a visit to Huka Falls to witness the massive amounts of water flowing through the forest. Then we headed off to Rotorua for a walk in the Red Woods. The forests in Rotorua are amazing; the bark almost glows red and the gentle brown underbrush combined with vines, tree ferns and other green undergrowth is beautiful. We walked and walked and ended at the Fairy Grotto, a strange kids play area in the woods with decorations and toys all around. That night we stayed at the Thermal Holiday Park campground in Rotorua.
Mar 3rd - My morning consisted of bike riding (yay!). I got on my bike, rode from the campsite to the trailhead (about 10min), and my legs were done. Ha, some days it just goes like that. I had not done much for the past two days so they might have been tired from not moving. My legs warmed up eventually and I was beaming with adrenaline and covered in dirt and sweat. Ending up with almost 30km before noon, I came back to the camp ground to meet mum so we could go to the Te Puia Maori cultural tour. For $69 each we had a lovely tour of the geysers, mud pits, kiwi birds, the Maori art school and a cultural performance. The geysers were shooting up hot water when we arrived, coming down as cool mist onto us. The Maoris still use the geysers today as ovens to cook meat and vegetables. The inside of the geyser cookers can reach up to 150 degrees celcius when the lid is closed. When the guide had finished explaining about the geysers, he took us to the bubbling boiling mud pits, then to the kiwi house, where my mom finally got to see her kiwis. They look like browny-gray shaggy basketballs and their beaks are long like pencils. We enjoyed an impressive walk through the art school that consisted of mainly wood carvings, stone carvings and items woven with flax leaves. The students are granted free education, due to the money from tours like ours, on the condition that when they go back to their tribe, they teach what they’ve learned. To finish our visit to Te Puia, we had the honour of viewing a traditional Maori welcome and dance. The welcoming ceremony was interesting. The Maori leader picked a “Guest Chief” from the crowd, the doors of the house opened and out came a warrior who did an aggressive dance performance and place a leaf on the ground. It was our “Chief’s” job to bend down and pick up the leaf as a sign of respect. The warrior would then slap his thigh and run back to the house as the women sang a welcoming call to the group. The group sang and danced a Welcoming song, an action song, the Haka and a love song. The performers were enticing and we couldn’t keep our eyes off them.
We made the 2.5 drive up to Sheryle’s for the night - it was so lovely to be back at her place.
Mar 4th - The next day was very relaxing as we did laundry and enjoyed the comforts of an actual house. Previously, I had offered to take my mom mountain biking so she could see what this sport that her kids love so much, is all about. I was shocked when she said she was keen to try it. We went to the park in the afternoon and I got her set up on a rental bike and all my protective gear. We took the shuttle up to the top while being flooded by welcoming and supportive words from the fellow riders. It was fun to see her meet my friends and co-workers here. I guided her down the easy trails with lots of support and advice. She smiled the whole way down and kept saying “I could do this better on my skis!” I am honestly super impressed with her skills. Most beginner riders really struggle with even the easiest trail here but she did very well. I’m very proud of her.
Mar 5th - The morning lead us through Auckland, up north to Mangawhai for lunch and a visit to the Bennett’s Chocolate Factory - YUM. We walked off our happy bellies at Mangawhai Heads, a beautiful, white-sandy beach. Mum loved being able to swim in the waves here since the water is so warm compared to Vancouver Island. We had a quick stop at Langs Beach, then spent the night at Waipu Cove Campground. This was a lovely spot - we were a dune away from the ocean and could hear it from the car and tent. Mum and I enjoyed the waves crashing close when it got dark. I ran through the black water and did a small meditation before bed.
Mar 6th - We started the day with another beach walk and ocean swim before breakfast. The sun was shining brilliantly through the breaking waves. We hit the road again to Whangerai for a food stop, then to the Waitangi Treaty grounds for a great historical tour and our second Maori cultural performance. We learned of the trickery and sad interactions between the Maoris and British. We also learned about the ta mokos (tattoos) and the structural significance of the Maori houses. Every tribe has a different take on their cultural singing and dancing so it was interesting to see a similar but different performance. We then drove to KeriKeri Holiday Park where we had our own cottage since it was supposed to rain that night. We got settled and put our stuff in the fridge, then headed out again to look at Rainbow falls and the oldest building in New Zealand, the Stone house. It was so nice to sleep in an actual bed that night.
Mar 7th - This was a long haul day but with so many beaches and beautiful views. We started with 90-mile beach, where we walked, ran, did handstands and took too many pictures. Next stop was the Ancient Buried Kauri Forest. Through the scraggly manuka trees, we could see the holes the gum digger workers dug, in search of kauri gum. The kauri gum is actually sap from the massive trees that were knocked over by natural disasters such as cyclones, and earth quakes. The gum crystalized, forming amber, and is worth quite a bit of money. They also had potato sac shacks where the gum diggers lived during their work period. The gum (amber) and 100,000 year-old kauri pieces were amazing to look at and smell in the shop. After an ice cream we made our way to Cape Reigna. The drive was beautiful and spotted with rain and sun. The further we got out to the coast, the better we could see giant sand dunes behind green rolling hills. Now and then, on the high spots of the road, we could see the vast ocean sparkling in the sun. The northern-most point of New Zealand is stunning. You look out over the lighthouse and ocean and see nothing but horizon. There is a directional sign pointing to different cities all over the world. Vancouver was 22,000km away. It is exciting and terrifying to think that in October I will be cycling my way to that point from the southern tip, 3000km away. Once we’d taken in the view as much as we could, we hopped back in the car. We did make a stop at Rarawa beach, which was given as a recommendation to us because of its unique sand. The sand was actually silica and the softest I’ve ever felt and squeaked loudly when you slid your feet through it. The sun was getting lower and lower so we made our way to Kaitaia for the night. The name of the place that I had booked was called “The World Famous Far North Holiday Home”. Confused, we pulled up to a small house in a strange neighbourhood. Mum went up and rang the bell as I waited in the car on the street. Two older men answered and said this was the right place. They had an 8/10 review sticker from Bookme.com in their window, but it felt very weird, uncomfortable and awkward to be in their home. I made us dinner and we had an early night after laughing at silly photos and videos of each other.
Mar 8th - The highlight of staying at this strange house was that we got breakfast: porridge, fruit, avocado, eggs, toast and tea. We left around 9am and drove the hour to the 10-min ferry and drove on as the last car just before it left - perfect! Then another hour driving to the Waipoua Forest to see the majestic and overly impressive Tane Mahuta. The energy from this tree was amazing. Mum cried and I gaped in amazement. It is difficult to describe the feeling of insignificance when standing at the base of this 2000 yr-old massive giant. It was hard for us to leave, but we knew there were more Kauris to see. We drove 2km down the road and parked at the signs for “Kauri Walks”. On this walk we took trails to Yamas, the seventh largest living Kauri, named after a gum digger (this one was close enough to hug), then to the Four Sisters (four trees all joined at the roots and base), and finally, Te Matua Ngahere, the second largest living Kauri. Mom and I were both filled with energy and awe. Forest bathing is amazing, especially being in the presence of these dinosaur trees. That night we stayed at the Greenhouse Hostel in Dargaville, a cute and cozy old-school house that had been turned into a hostel.
Mar 9th - Woke up with the sun and warm shower, then hit the road to Mangawhai for another lovely lunch and chocolate factory visit. We lazily made our way to Muriwai beach to watch the gannets. The young had really grown since my last visit to Muriwai. They were little grey puffballs then, and now they are spotted, big and most are ready to fly. Earlier that week I had contacted the German couple I had WOOFed for in December - they had said I could come back anytime and stay a few days free of work. I figured a few days of just me would be equivalent of one night with my mum and I. They said yes since they didn’t have anyone else staying with them. They fed us a delicious dinner of salad and vegetarian dumpling.
Mar 10th - This beautiful morning, we relaxed, read, wrote and enjoyed breakfast before making the drive through Auckland, and up the Coromandel peninsula to meet Sheryle. We thought we would be camping, but Sheryle had found amazing accommodation for us. A cousin of one of her friends owns a beautiful beachy house up on the hill overlooking the ocean and all the Coromandel Peninsula islands. It turned out that the house would be empty that night so Sheryle, her Aussie friend, mum and I could all stay there. We made a feast of a meal of potato salad, green salad, mussles and oysters and appies.
Mar 11th - All of us ladies started out the day with a walk through the kauris ending at Tucks Bay. We filled a bag with plastic and garbage from the beach and made our way across the peninsula to Whitianga. On the way there, I jumped in a freezing waterfall and we did another small kauri walk (we couldn't get enough of these incredible trees).
Mar 12th - We woke up to the rain. Mum cut my hair, which badly needed it. She did a very good job, even though she’d never cut hair as long as mine. We had a lovely walk through town looking at art galleries and little souvenirs, then enjoyed fish and chips for lunch. Sheryle and mum had a dip in the hot tub, then we watched two movies and had leftover Thai food for dinner. We watched The Shack and then Lion. Both very good, touching movies.
Mar 13th - Pancakes-a-la-Skye for breakfast, then to Cathedral Cove for a scenic walk and swim. Once back at Sheryle’s, we unpacked, resorted and had a feast of salads and nachos with Sheryle’s house sitters.
Mar 14th - After packing, sorting, cleaning, eating and lots of talking, we left Sheryle’s in the afternoon to get to the airport in the evening for Mum's 8pm flight. We both cried as we hugged multiple times before letting go. It was so amazing to have her here for a whole month and to experience so much more of NZ with her by my side. I feel so lucky and blessed that we get along, have similar interests, are both healthy and could afford this trip together. This will stay in the memory bank forever.
Love you so much Momma Bear.